Alert readers might note I posted over on the Macmillan New Writers site about my inability/reluctance to talk about Works In Progress. Sadly, that doesn't apply to my Works Out of Progress. Those, I can inflict upon you: here is my so-far-unpublished oeuvre. (Or does that mean "egg?")
This is sort of like death, except that it's my life (2002-present) flashing before your eyes. Be grateful it isn't yours.
Things Unseen. My first novel. An "epistomological mystery" featuring a recalcitrant detective whose unconventional, estranged sister has been murdered out in the California desert. The protagonist is Walker Clayborne, PhD in Geology (can you get any more mundane? Can you get any more obvious with the name and profession?) who is the most rational and reductionist of characters until he encounters unlikely facts he can't explain away. Includes side trips into quantum physics, psychedelic drugs, psychic phenomena, eccentric physicists, Bikers for Jesus, cult murders, and--well, you know the sort of thing.
Tomorrowville. The name of this blog, in case you hadn't noticed. I had to figure out how to characterize this puppy in one line (since I live near Hollywood), and the logline is "A grim cyberpunk political romantic comedy." Since that's the most-requested category when folks wander into a bookstore, offers of wealth and fame came flooding in from every corner of the globe.
Actually, my friends and writing pals were sure this one was going to be my debut breakout bestseller (probably because it was so much less baroque and so much more streamlined than Things Unseen.)
Okay, no wealth and no fame, but any number of agents and editors sat with this for longer than I care to remember. And some of them even liked it. They just couldn't figure out what the hell to do with it--witness some of the responses it garnered. Probably publishable twenty years ago or ten years from now (unless reality catches up with it, which is a real danger). Maybe even publishable now, but surely not as a follow-on to Shock and Awe.
A Map of the Edge. Quite possibly my best prose. After reading the first three chapters, one agent who'd read Things Unseen and passed on it called me and asked to see the full manscript as well as to see Things Unseen again, "as I didn't realize when I read it that you were a literary writer."*
Or perhaps she meant she didn't realize I was a "literate" writer.
*She's one of the ones I never got back to with either manuscript, as I was too deep into the next novel to revise...Sorry, Donna, I really am.
As it turns out, I have a handful of rejections from agents who loved the first hundred-fifty pages and then lost the thread. And I had many invitations to resubmit again if I rewrote--but no one could put their finger on what went wrong. "Too much sex and too many drugs--not that I object to either in principle..." one agent wrote me. Though he didn't amuse me nearly as much as the agent--an agent I greatly admire, by the way--advised me that he'd read my "Young Adult Novel" (the protagonist is 15, but I surely wasn't aiming at a readership under 18, as I didn't fancy a jail term), and while he admired the writing and felt quite moved by the characters, he couldn't think of a single editor who would be interested in taking on this book.
MOTE, as it's known to cool people (ie, me and a couple of close friends), is a slightly demented coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old boy in California circa 1969. Sex. Drugs. Ultimately murder. I wear as a badge of honor the fact that a novelist running a workshop I attended said of the first chapter, "This might be the best sex scene I've ever read." Cool. Can we sell the first chapter?
In other words, unpublishable. And, though there's still several agents who said, back in 2004, that they'd love to have first look at any rewrites, I suspect they aren't pining away by their mailboxes waiting for it.
One interesting response, though, came from an agent who was the son of a famous agent, starting up at his dad's agency. He told me my characters were too generic and my writing wasn't "tight enough" for his standards. All of which might be true. But his biggest sales success to date at that time was a novel written by a former professional wrestler. Not that I'm saying professional wrestlers can't set the literary bar for the rest of us...
Smite the Waters. Oops. That's the one that got published: Shock and Awe.
Earthly Vessels. Too cool for mere mortals. The protagonist is a guy who discovers he is the incarnation of a sort of god, and suddenly everyone is trying to kill him or form alliances with him--except he isn't the Chosen One, he isn't the god everyone is expecting, but rather a sort of screwup in the Cosmic Switchboard. In fact, he is the embodiment of Cosmic Screwup, which, as it happens, needs its own avatar.
I've never had this much fun writing a book. It's third-person multi-POV, but there's also a possibly unreliable omniscient narrator who leans into the story whenever he pleases and lectures the reader (possibly unreliably) on the nature of the universe. What really happens with reincarnation. Why the material plane is special. How erections work and how they relate to what you ate for breakfast. What really lives in the sewers of Rome. Different strategies for expanding the human lifspan. Real estate values. How to attract bees. The honest truth about that sort of stuff...maybe.
These books might not be damaged per se. But none of them are anything a fan of Shock and Awe would expect to read after picking up a book with my name on it.
Bottom line? I've had a lot of fun, and even believe I've, however accidentally, perpetrated some decent work. But in marketability terms...am I an idiot, or what? (You need not answer that. The "or what" possibilities are even more disturbing than just wearing an "idiot" sign.)